One Piece has been running almost a nonstop since 1997, and sits at 81 volumes over 825+ chapters. I’m here to try to break that down in as few words as I can possibly manage.
At its paltry 81 volumes, anyone can catch up. It’s gonna take a while. It’s gonna take a LONG while. But it can be done. Here’s a few tips:
- There’s no correct rate at which you have to read One Piece. If one chapter a day is enough, then that’s enough. You’ll be caught up in around three years at that rate (accounting for new chapters being published), which is fine! There’s someone out there that’s waited almost 20 years to get to where you did in just three!
- Cost and space are two huge roadblocks…But Viz Media holds sales on their app sometimes for bundles of One Piece at a huge markdown from the paperback price. There’s also libraries! One Piece is a huge property and a library near you is either going to have it or able to get it to you for free through interlibrary loan. Especially if you’re near a somewhat big college campus or city, they’re going to have One Piece at your local library.
- And there’s no way it stays good…but it does. You might not believe me, but One Piece totally does stay good through 81+ volumes. I’m still reading it week to week, even though I’m a few weeks behind on my Weekly Shonen Jumps. Sure, there are variations in quality and favorite arcs vary from person to person, but I’ve enjoyed most every chapter of One Piece I’ve read, and continue to.
So…yeah…One Piece may seem daunting to get into—and it is—but anyone can do it and it’ll be worth it if you give it a shot. Then at least you can say you tried. And if you try and don’t like it, then that’s fine too! Not everything is for everyone. The overwhelming praise and popularity mean nothing to individual taste.
What I’m going to do is break down every major arc, lay out its strengths and weaknesses in the larger context of One Piece, and then say whether it’s a good jumping off point. At current, there are nine arcs (according to Viz Media’s titling system) with several subarcs, and one time skip…that did it better than Naruto. That’s right, I said it.
Now…the nature of how I’m writing it means there’s going to be SOME minor spoilers because I need to talk about the next arc with the context of the previous arc in mind. I’m not going to give away anything huge, but be warned.
East Blue (volumes 1–12)
The East Blue is where it all begins for One Piece, both figuratively and literally. The world of One Piece is split into four seas, and it’s the East Blue that Luffy calls home. The story begins with Pirate Hunter Roronoa Zoro captured by the Marines. Then-unknown Monkey D. Luffy rescues and recruits him into his pirate crew. These first volumes are largely set up, of both character and formula. Each mini arc within the East Blue arc is set with the introduction of a character and a description of his or her tragic backstory. In these opening pages, Luffy, Zoro, Nami, Usopp, and Sanji are all introduced and expounded upon. There are also great character moments that build our relationship with every character and give us a favorite crew member to love and latch on to for the following volumes (Luffy walking away from Bellemere explaining Nami’s past or Zoro’s declaration that he will never lose again, for example).
Of course, volume 1 is a great starting point, but if we’re going for what defines One Piece without too many spoilers of the previous arcs, I’d go for volumes 9–11, Arlong Park. It returns Nami to her home in Cocoyashi Village, sets up some later great social commentary, and hits both the storytelling and shonen action beats as well as any in the series.
Baroque Works (volumes 13–23)
In Baroque Works, the crew as we know it begins to take form (five out of the nine current crew members are already introduced and very fleshed out). This is also the first very long arc in One Piece. East Blue is really just several mini-arcs shoved together because they’re all in the East Blue, but Baroque Works as a whole spans 10 whole volumes. It’s also where doctor and cute mascot Tony Tony Chopper is introduced. Chopper, the reindeer-turned-human by the Human Human Fruit is a doctor that almost no one rivals that dreams of curing every disease.
But the meat of the story is the royal family of Alabasta, and the leader of the Baroque Works and one of the Shichibukai, Crocodile, at odds with each other. Corruption is king in Alabasta, and everything is about to go to a head between the two warring factions before the Straw Hat Pirates jump in. If you’ve seen promotional material for later arcs, this also reveals the Demon Child Nico Robin. An archeologist by trade and criminal by circumstance, she’s known as Miss All-Sunday within Baroque Works and stands only below the aforementioned Crocodile, Mr. 0, in rank. This is also the introduction of Mr. 2—chosen name Bon Clay, given name Bentham—an okama and quite possibly the greatest character in all of One Piece.
If Arlong Park was the seeds of One Piece, then Baroque Works is its first bud. Several key plot and world elements are introduced here, including royal families and Shichibukai. It’s not the greatest arc, but it’s one of the more important ones.
Skypiea (volumes 24–31)
The fabled sky island. With Nico Robin adding herself to the crew, former enemy is now friend (a theme in Baroque Works, perhaps) and the crew venture not north, south, east, or west, but up. After a rush of new crew introductions, this is also the first arc where no new crew is added. Skypiea is a strange arc for its inclusiveness and disassociation from everything else that has been going on in the story thus far. Its larger plot points and the context it’s within may be lost on a new reader.
But Skypiea isn’t bad. In fact, it’s an indication of the larger battles to come. Eneru is the first really big opponent they faced (sorry Crocodile) in a large context (which removes Mihawk), and certainly the strongest; he’s perhaps stronger than Rob Lucci, but a poor matchup against Luffy. Given its stand alone nature, Skypiea is a great starting point as a representation of One Piece lore and character storytelling.
Water Seven (volumes 32–45)
If One Piece wasn’t already good, this is where it gets good. To continue the metaphor, this is where the flower begins to bloom. Water Seven is a defining moment in One Piece as the first time the Straw Hat Pirates (not just Luffy) go from nuisances to threats. Robin—the Devil Child, always chased after, never fitting in—has finally found people that care for her. But she can’t believe it. It’s unfathomable for someone raised since about the age of 9 as a criminal, hated by all, to think that people didn’t hate her. But the Straw Hat Pirates are inclusive. They’ve let Bon Clay and Nico Robin in their crew after fighting tooth and nail against them. Even Nami, Sanji, and Zoro acted antagonistic toward Luffy or his crew at one point or another. For better or worse, the Straw Hat crew will let you know when they love you and will do anything for you.
That’s at the heart of this arc. The world of One Piece is set up more with the World Government and Marine hierarchy expanded upon slightly. And it is against the strongest powers in the world that the Straw Hat Pirates rebel. All for the sake of their friend. Because nothing else is more important. If you’re looking for a jumping off point to show the emotional heights of One Piece, look no further. Some context may be lost, but can be picked up largely intuitively through text.
Thriller Bark (volumes 46–49)
Since the very beginning of the story, Luffy has been insistent that a musician be added to the crew. They got a cook so Nami could eat in style, they got a navigator so they wouldn’t get lost, and they got a shipwright when everything was breaking down. But they’re pirates! What are pirates without shanties! So when a violin (among other instruments) playing skeleton walks up and asks to join the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy nonchalantly says yes.
Thriller Bark is a departure from the previous One Piece stories in that it’s much lighter than the ones leading up to this. Besides the reprieve Foxy arc (which brought us Afro Luffy, so I can’t complain), everything has been very heavy. This also shows Oda’s penchant for callbacks…Over 300 chapters later, the little whale they met at Reverse Mountain is brought up yet again. I won’t spoil why, but, like everything else, it has weight and meaning. Thriller Bark’s content isn’t as consistent with the rest of One Piece immediately, but it hits every note a One Piece arc does, and it is possibly the most fun arc out of any. Given that it largely doesn’t cross over in huge ways with other arcs, it’s a fun way to start.
Sabaody (volumes 50–53)
Fishmen and noble families (first brought up back in Baroque Works) make their triumphant return in the Sabaody arc. Alongside them are 10 other pirate newcomers, some of which will play pivotal roles in both the upcoming Paramount War and later in the New World. The 11 Supernovas as they’re called are part of the Worst Generation of pirates and include nine pirate captains and two of their top subordinates (Zoro and Kid Pirate member Killer) who are all worth over 100 million berries (One Piece currency, equivalent to the yen rather than the U.S. dollar). They’ve all reached the Sabaody Archipelago, the last stop on the Grand Line before the New World, at the same time.
I don’t know exactly why Viz decided to split Sabaody, Impel Down, and Paramount War into three separate parts when they’re really all part of the larger whole, but oh well. Sabaody is the beginning of the war, when everyone is split up by The Tyrant Bartholomew Kuma and his Paw Paw Fruit powers. Prior to, they all promise to return together in two days at the same place once everything settles down. But bigger things are brewing…
I can’t in great confidence suggest this as a starting point, but this is THE rising action moment of pre-time skip material. If you want to start as late as possible while getting a good portion of information, here’s as good as any. Impel Down or Paramount War though? Forget about it!
Impel Down (volumes 54–56)
Luffy’s brother, Portgas D. Ace, first introduced in Baroque Works, has been captured by former ally Blackbeard, Marshall D. Teach. He has been thrown into the deepest depths of Impel Down to await his execution as a member of the Whitebeard Pirates. Luffy, never being one to let a friend and especially a brother down, ventures into Impel Down with the help of newfound friend and Shichibukai Boa Hancock.
This is the most callback-y of the callbacks in all of One Piece. Several villains make their triumphant return and fight alongside Luffy, as well as newcomers of course. Emporio Ivankov, the Okama King and Queen of the Newkama Land, is one, and the Knight of the Sea Jinbe is another. To stage this break in and escape, Luffy will need (and gets) all the help he can get.
For what is, at least in placement, act two of the whole Paramount War saga, this is hardly an arc to look over. Not only will old friends return, but old rivals will become lovable. And the ever present Buggy the Clown from the East Blue makes his return yet again, this time with friends.
Paramount War (volumes 57–60)
Luffy and gang have broken out of Impel Down, Whitebeard and his pirates have begun an attack on Marineford trying to save Ace and the escapees have entered to help. Everyone on the Marines side is there, including Luffy’s grandfather, Garp, the Shichibukai, and all the Marine Admirals.
Recall that, in the previous 59 volumes, no character has died in the current timeline. They’ve been beat up, they’ve been put within an inch of their life, but they have never died. Never believe anyone dies in One Piece until confirmed on screen. The Paramount War is where both sides realize they had lost too much in a fight the Marines shouldn’t have instigated and the pirates shouldn’t have exacerbated. This is a lesson for both sides and changes the landscape of the entire world. The Paramount War set into motion every event in the New World.
Luffy, at the time of Sabaody, promised his crew to return to the archipelago in three days. After fighting in and out of Impel Down, and then against several fleet of Marines at Marineford, Luffy has decided that they need a break to train. He rings the Ox Bell 16 times, the first eight as a symbol of the end of a year and the next eight the symbol of the beginning of the next, as a way to inform his crew to meet up not in three days, but in two years. Train, and be ready for the fight to come. At this point, Oda himself took four weeks off of One Piece. A well deserved rest for someone who had been working for 13 years.
New World (volumes 61–??)
Two years have passed since the end of the Paramount War. Neither pirate nor Marine is the same after the events that transpired. The Straw Hat Pirates, once thought to be up-and-coming nuisances in the collective sides of the Marines, have gone silent, largely thought to be a result of Luffy’s involvement in the Paramount War.
The New World begins with their return and regathering in Sabaody. The Pacifistas, which took all nine of them to defeat prior to the time skip, are felled in one blow each from Luffy, Zoro, and Sanji. They have gotten stronger. Their first task: Escape from Sabaody and go underwater to Ryugu Kingdom, where fishmen and mermaids come from.
If you’re looking for a quick in, this is the best place besides the very beginning in my opinion. The crew comes back together after a long absence; it’s essentially a soft reboot of the series with bigger payoff for long-time fans and an easy jumping into point for the newcomers.
This was longer than I expected it to be, but I’m sure Eiichiro Oda says that to himself every day. One Piece, like this post, is going to be a long journey to get yourself into. And it’s going to be worth every single page.
And here’s the thing about manga: If you aren’t feeling a particular arc, you can skim through it and wait for something to catch your eye to slow down. And if you’re feeling burned out, set One Piece down for a day or a week or a month. It isn’t leaving, and you don’t have to force yourself to read anything you don’t want to.